Fruits, vegetables and grass-fed meat: these are the three main food groups former San Diego high school science teacher and full-time Paleo blogger Stephanie Gaudreau uses to bring her readers a variety of meal options. Gaudreau’s blog, Stupid Easy Paleo, gets around 30,000 visits a day and just passed a million page views this past month,she says.
The buzz is no surprise considering the ever-growing popularity of the Paleolithic diet. The Paleo diet was listed as the most searched diet in 2013, according to Google trends. The premise of the Paleo diet is to eat as the hunter-gatherer ancestors did in the Paleolithic era, instead of consuming the processed and refined food that fill today’s grocery store aisles. Gaudreau says she has seen a drastic change in the way she feels since first starting the Paleo diet four years ago.
“I discovered I could have stable energy and stay full longer,” Gaudreau said. “It’s just a very satisfying way to eat.”
Before starting the Paleo diet, Gaudreau says she had swings in blood glucose, skin problems and trouble sleeping. After seeing improvement in these areas, she says she can only attribute it to her change in diet.
Like any diet, Paleo has a number of restrictions. The Paleo diet is dairy-free, grain-free and legume-free. These restrictions have caused a debate among many nutritionists on the healthiness and effectiveness of the diet.
Criticisms of Paleo
U.S News and World Report named Paleo diet last on the 2014 list of best diets overall. One of the main criticisms about this plan, also called a “caveman” diet, is the accuracy of the title and how misleading some consider it to be.
“There’s no science behind the Paleo diet,” San Diego dietician Peggy Korody said. “Anthropologists say that there is proof that cavemen ate grains and there just isn’t a science background to support what the Paleo diet claims.”
Critics also argue that eating the Paleo way is not convenient or practical. Eating like a caveman in a modern world requires a dieter to be conscious of the food they’re consuming. Eating out or even picking up food from the grocery store requires a person to be meticulous about the ingredients inside it. Korody says this aspect of the diet makes it extremely difficult to follow thoroughly. Those in favor of Paleo, however, say that eating this way simplifies a confusing subject like nutrition.
“I spent a long time counting calories,” Gaudreau said. “Now I eat intuitively and I know that the foods I’m eating are nutrient dense. I’m not just surviving. I’m thriving.”
Interpretation: What is considered Paleo-friendly?
Being dairy-free, grain-free and legume free can require a large amount of restriction. Just the word diet implies restricting different foods from a person’s nutritional regimen. How long can someone restrict their diet before falling off?
That question is a major concern for Paleo opponents, who argue that being grain-free is not a sensible diet for the modern day consumer and is not meant for long-term use. San Diego dietitian Tara Coleman says that ultra strict attitude toward eating Paleo is not the best approach to have.
“My philosophy is no restriction because restriction is always short term,” Coleman said. “I think if you follow the diet the way it’s intended, it’s a really great plant-based diet with lots of protein.”
Paleo followers start business in San Diego
Despite the criticisms, the Paleo diet is so popular that one San Diego resident has developed Level Up Meals, a Paleo meal delivery service. Level Up Meals brings ready-to-eat Paleo meals to several gyms around San Diego.
Owner Burtecin Sapta says most people he knows are not completely Paleo because it is unrealistic and can be expensive. He says most of what he eats is Paleo-friendly, but he does splurge with sweet treats every once in a while. Sapta looks at Paleo as a lifestyle rather than just a temporary way to eat.
“Some people interpret Paleo as just another diet and they think the flames will go out soon,” Sapta said. “No one in our company sees it as a diet. We just like to eat natural and organic.”
Bob Montgomery, owner of Not So Fast! food truck, shares this same attitude when whipping up meals in his Paleo food truck. Nearly two years after opening, Montgomery believes the idea of eating less processed food has gained in popularity.
Montgomery says San Diego is a great location for his Paleo food truck because, other than Austin, Texas, it has the largest Paleo following. He says the amount of personal trainers and nutritionists make it an ideal place for the Paleo diet to become more popular.
MULTIMEDIA: Owner of Not So Fast! food truck, Bob Montgomery, recalls his transition to the Paleo diet. Montgomery explains how he opened his food truck and how customers have reacted to Paleo meals.
Athletes approach the Paleo diet differently
Some of Level Up Meals’ best customers are members of CrossFit gyms. Sapta has seen how the CrossFit community, which focuses on interval training and weightlifting, has embraced the Paleo diet in his business.
“It’s no shocker that CrossFit and the Paleo diet became popular at the same time,” Coleman said. “It’s part of the culture at a lot of gyms but I think there is a fair amount of pressure that comes along with it.”
Many CrossFit gyms have Paleo challenges and the group setting of CrossFit serves as a Paleo support group. However, group pressure may cause CrossFitters to stay committed to a diet that doesn’t work for them.
“The sedimentary crowd does well with Paleo,” CrossFit trainer Randy Hill said. Hill says he didn’t find Paleo to be effective for him as an athlete.
The lack of grains restricts the amount of carbohydrates an athlete consumes. Hill says he consumed most of his carbs from sweet potatoes and a few other vegetables but didn’t find it to be enough to keep up with his workouts.
Gaudreau recognizes the problems with this diet for athletes on her blog and even has recipes for Paleo athletes. She recommends adapting Paleo to an athletic approach.
“Use the underpinnings of Paleo and customize it for an athlete because 50 grams of carbs or less might not be optimal for an athlete,” Gaudreau said.
MULTIMEDIA: CrossFit trainer Randy Hill demonstrates the intensity of Crossfit workouts and gives a look at the Paleo diet from an athlete’s perspective. Alice Meagher, community connector for Level Up Meals, explains how she became involved in the diet and how it has affected her as an athlete.
The diet culture
Korody says popular or fad diets rely heavily on the fact that people will fail and then spend more money on products. How Paleo stacks up to other diets, which continue the cycle of losing weight and then gaining it back, is a topic of debate.
Gaudreau says unlike other diets that may promise to lose seven pounds in seven days, Paleo diet focuses on food quality. Whether cutting out grains is appropriate for someone varies from person to person.
“There’s no one-size fits all diet,” Coleman said. “People need to calm down about food. Being fearful of certain food causes us to overeat and makes us look at different food as good or bad.”